Top military officers detail effects of defense cuts
Top military officials testify about defense cuts before the House Armed Services Committee. (Getty Photo)
November 2nd, 2011
05:50 PM ET

Top military officers detail effects of defense cuts

By CNN's Larry Shaughnessy and Charley Keyes

The top military officers were on Capitol Hill Wednesday warning what one called the "catastrophic" impact of further defense cuts, and providing more detail about what potentially would get cut if a deal on the budget was not reached and automatic cuts were imposed.

For months, the Pentagon - from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on down - has been sounding the alarm about what further budget cuts would mean to American national security. Wednesday's chorus of warnings came from the top officers in each branch of service about what would happen if they had to cut even more from their budgets.

"Cuts of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the military, and in the case of the Army would significantly reduce our capability," Gen. Ray Odierno, the new Army chief of staff, testified about the potential of huge cuts if the 12-member congressional "super committee" doesn't reach a budget deal by Thanksgiving.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of Naval operations, echoed those concerns, saying, "In my view sequestration will cause irreversible damage." Sequestration is the term used for mandatory across-the-board defense budget cuts.

Getting down to specifics of the cuts, Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, testified that "at a minimum, they would slash all of our investment accounts, including our top priority modernization program such as the KC-46 - the (air refueling) tanker - the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft, and the future long-range strike bomber."

Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, said he is worried about more than hardware; he is concerned the cuts would mean a loss of some of the U.S.'s most experienced troops.

"We will lose that leadership of those NCOs and those staff noncommissioned officers at the five, six, seven year mark that have shouldered the burden of the last 10 years of our conflicts. We will lose that," Amos said.

"They will leave and we will - it will take us another six to 10 years ... to grow that sailor down in Norfolk or that staff NCO or NCO within the Marine Corps."

At the Pentagon, spokesmen pushed back Wednesday against suggestions that military officials may be over-dramatizing the consequences, or "crying wolf" to make their point.

"I think it is telling that it is not only the secretary but the military leadership of this Department using worlds like 'devastating' and 'Doomsday scenario,'" Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday morning at the off-camera question-and-answer session with journalists.

"I think the reality is that we have done the analysis and we would face the smallest Army and Marines Corps in decades. We would face the smallest Air Force in the history of the service and we would have the smallest Navy since the Woodrow Wilson administration if sequestration were to happen."

The consequences, Little argued, would stretch beyond the Defense Department to the civilian economy.

"We have done that analysis and ... we would also have a severe impact to jobs, inside the department and inside the defense industrial base. And these are serious issues to contend with," Little said.

"Inside the department, the job issue is of great concern but also outside because the skills and expertise of the defense industrial base are what creates new capabilities for the U.S. military going forward. The threats aren't going away, and we need to be prepared. And if we hollow out the force and hollow out the industrial base, that would create significant problems for our national security," Little said.

At the House hearing, Gen. Amos reiterated the connection between a robust American military and a strong economy. "Ninety-five percent of the world's commerce travels by seas and oceans," Amos said. "The commerce and the economics would want us, would seem to compel us to want to have forward presence."

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Maryland, asked why the U.S. Air Force had abandoned plans to look at a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which Bartlett believes will save money through competition. Gen. Schwartz responded by saying an engine competition, in the short run, would be too expensive.

"Based on the information I've seen, sir, it would require development of two engines, with the test programs and all that's associated with that. There simply is no free money available to pursue a second development program."

Schwartz also was quick to point out that regardless of the result of the budget debate, U.S. troops will always be ready to serve their country. "Your soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are not going to go on break," he said.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Ranger 5

    I wont leave. I poudly serve my country by killing the muslims. Lets protect our mother country. Defend her !!!

    November 8, 2011 at 12:42 am | Reply
    • 35 series

      Thanks for the ignorant comment, I as a Muslim and a soldier believe in killing the Enemy but not in wiping out an ethnic group of people, Chinese, Africans, Muslims etc. You shame our profession, the tab and eveything the service stands for. "under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country" remember this?

      March 2, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  2. Minute Man

    I have really enjoyed my career as a soldier here in Iraq, but if they think I am doing this for pleasure alone, they have got another thing coming. We bash heads over here because that is the only reason outher countries respect and fear us. As Al Capone, You can get more with a kind word AND a GUN than JUST A KIND WORD. If they curtail my benefits, I wont re-enlist even though I will miss doing head shots on these bastards as their comrades watch. I will definitely miss the violence, but I will have to find another way to channel it/ Maybe I will learn more advanced MMA techniques and fight in the UFC circuit.

    November 3, 2011 at 9:21 am | Reply
  3. Pistoya

    If we expect to go into Iran this year, we need to expand military spending not curtail it. If we end up in North Korea, that would then be two theatre's. We cant work our magic without the hardware and soldiers need their paychecks as well. What will they say if we need to invade China or Rusia. Those are really big ticket items with 50 billion or so needed just to nuke those countries before going in and cleaning them up. Lets face it. Boots on the ground arent cheap. But if we expect to preserve freedom and our way of life, we better ante up to the cost of maintaining our status in the world. Go USA ! We are the baddest in the world and lets keep it that way.

    November 3, 2011 at 9:14 am | Reply
  4. Tim

    Liberals.....

    November 3, 2011 at 1:23 am | Reply
  5. Steve

    It is time to cut the "Offense" Department Budget. I could also call it the "Invasion" Department. They have not fought a single war in "Defense" of this country for over 50 years. Even 100 years ago they were invading Cuba, the Philippines. They are still occupying Germany, Italy, Japan; World War Two ended 65 years ago. It is time to let the incompetent generals go to pasture. They have lost every war since the Korean conflict. Make sure they are not double dipping on retirement benefits as it is their custom.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  6. Niveus Vulpes

    If there is one thing I have noticed in the long run is that most people who are more for cutting military budgets are usually people who have not served or have strong moral reasons as to not have a military to begin with. One thing most of these people are forgetting is that these people that are getting paid in the services are giving of themselves and their lives to a job that not everyone would be willing to do. I've seen that even with our current cuts on spending that so many things are falling into dissary with repairs simply cause there is no money. Then in some cases these enlisted people band together like a well-knit family and get what they need together where budgets would not allow. So instead of just down trotting on the military budget, how bout a little more support.
    Another thing most people wouldn't realize that if the military was to "releive" people from the services that would create a large influx on the civilian employment. There would be even less available jobs for everyone, not to mention how hard it is for some to find a normal job after the military mostly because people say they are "over qualified". There are consequences and rammifications for those cuts that would affect the debt of our economy even more so. Less money on military budgets mean less money they can spend on parts from US companies to build what they need. Then less money to those companies mean cuts to them, and then it just snowballs from there.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Reply
    • Steve

      I'd rather have you guys build roads and bridges and a modern railway system at home than to invade some country 5000 miles away. You'd make more money and your services would be useful. I don't want any of you to die in a rice-patty or in some poppy field or blown apart by an IUD.

      November 2, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  7. Henry

    -Pete... good luck finding a job in the public sector. Hope you enjoy competition.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  8. James

    "[W]e would face the smallest Army and Marines Corps in decades. We would face the smallest Air Force in the history of the service and we would have the smallest Navy since the Woodrow Wilson administration."

    They say that like its a bad thing! When the USA is spending approximately SIX TIMES the amount on our arm services as the next highest spending country, I say we should be cutting back.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  9. Pete

    Given the option to leave the military if they make the suggested cuts, I'm done. 21 years of experience, and I will walk out the door if they cut our benefits. I'm as patriotic as anyone, but I have spent about 30% of my 7 year old son's life overseas, and I'd be a fool if I let them thank me by cutting my benefits. Others will leave too, I'm sure.

    November 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Reply

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